GG184; European rosewood parlor from around 1920

I am not used to have a deadline, but this GammelGura was to be delivered within a week. I was only halfway done, so I had to work over the weekend to get it finished.

It's not often you see a European parlor with solid rosewood at the bottom and side, it's probably actually the first one I worked with. The fretboard was also in rosewood. American pearl guitars from the turn of the last century often have rosewood in the bottom and side and also mahogany in the neck, the woods were expensive in Europe. The neck and bridge on this one were in maple, as they are usually in a European parlors. I have seen the rosette on other similar guitars and was very lavish with lots of mother-of-pearl. The top in European spruce was also better than normal, it had no or very little run-out, i.e. the fibers followed the same angle as the top's surface

The tuners were nice and also had a screw in the cog, which is very rare on European parlor guitars

It had been trimmed at some point where the varnish on the bottom and side had been removed, and the entire guitar gets a relatively thick and shiny layer of shellac. I left the shellac on the top, except for the rosette, the bottom and side were cleaned with rubbing alcohol and got a few rounds of alcohol varnish instead. The top had some fine drying cracks that were easy to glue together. As usual with rosewood, the bottom also had several long, continuous and fine cracks. They were glued and reinforced on the inside with mahogany reinforcements. The bottom also had a binding of rosewood all around and a nice decorative strip of maple between the bottom halves.

The bridge in black-painted maple was replaced with a replica in rosewood. However, the small decorations on the mustache tips remained original. The thin and flat fretboard was replaced with a new and thicker rosewood board with a 16 ″ radius.

Given the tuners and the unusual wood, I think it is a little later and made somewhere between 1920 to 1925.

The biggest problem with it was the wooden binding around the bottom. If you want to save the original, the bottom must be sawn loose just below the binding. I chose to scrap the binding and make a new one instead, fitting a shrunken bottom to the sides is not a good idea. With a new binding, I could glue the bottom without building in tension by making the new binding a little wider. Of course, there will be a lot of extra work with that solution.

At the bottom I could see that the bracing were not the best. The brace at the bridge was located behind the bridge itself, which makes the area in front of the bridge weak. Despite this, the top had done well without too much deformation. The bridgeplate was in spruce without reinforcements around the pinholes, which is nice but only works for gut- or nylon strings. The braces in the top and bottom were not quite as clumsy as they usually are, the top had thin plates of maple as reinforcement around the sound hole.

The top was a little too thick, I sanded off about half a mm to 3 mm. The bottom was about 2,6 mm thick and did not need to be thinned. I was a little unsure if it was walnut or rosewood, but the bottom was both heavy and hard, and no doubt rosewood.

All braces were replaced in the usual order. The neck got its carbon fiber rod, this time with an extra strong reinforcement of the neck heel. My new version of my jig for sanding radius in the fretboard worked very well, with my new bandsaw I could easily cut out a new mustache bridge. I also cut the binding to the bottom with the bandsaw. It's good to have good tools!

To have something to glue the bottom, minus the original binding, against, I glued on an extra kerfing around the bottom. I used linden wood from an old shutter, a very practical material as it does not need to be bent with heat. The bottom was glued with small distances in plastic around between the bottom and the side clamps, the edge was milled and a decorative strip and a rosewood binding formed with heat were glued in with hot hide glue. The special binding around the bottom took one or two extra days to get in place. Clearing the bottom and side from the tough shellac also took a lot of time. It was a slightly more demanding conversion than usual.

No K&K mic was fitted, but otherwise it got all the features. This guitar had never intonated well, when I measured the intonation to place the frets on the fretboard, the 12th fret ended up several mm from the body and not exactly on the edge. The fretboard got four new and smaller pearl dots, the originals were milky white rather than shiny. With clear spirit lacquer, that I did not fade down with steel wool, on the rosette, that mother-of-pearl inlay shined a lot!

I have taken my time and come up with a better way to glue in the neck than before with my neck gluing jig. In short, I am more careful than before to really fit my neck right. I also aim 1 mm lower than before towards the top of the bridge to compensate for the small bend the neck gets with tensioned strings and the material that is sanded away to give the fretboard a relief and for the crowning of the frets. With the new methods, it takes a lot before I have to glue the neck again. Knock on wood.

The intonation of the guitar went as it should, the new mechanical stroboscope tuner is more accurate than the old digital. The saddle did not need to be thicker than about 4 mm on this one, and the nut only needed small corrections for best intonation. The neck was painted with a couple of turns of black spirit lacquer, and the fingerboard got side dots in 2 mm mother-of-pearl. The tuners did not get any bushings as the holes in the posts were placed too close to the edges, a bushing had covered half the hole. The old tuners worked well.

A Ortega 3/4 case was purchased from Thomann, a good case for small curvy parlor guitars like this one.

It is a very beautiful guitar and the customer who picked it up in the room is very happy with it 🙂

Batch; Installation of string pins and tuners

With the Bridge and bridgeplate glued and ready, including plugs and buttons, the next step is to assemble the stringpins. I use new solid stringpins in ebony where I drilled in 4 mm mother of pearl dots. They are similar to the handmade originals, but they are all perfectly shaped, and you do not have to keep track of which holes the pins should fit for the best fit.

The pin holes need to be enlarged and reamed and notches filed out in the bridge for the strings. Using slotted pins is easy, but it is not the best solution. With slotted pins, there is a great risk that the bridgeplate and/or stringpins will wear over time.

To do the job, I use my Proxxon to quickly mill up a beginning to a deep notch for the three thickest strings. The finishing touches are then made with one small saw and some round needle files. I have prepared a set of cut Newtone Heritage 0,12 strings which I use as a template for the notch in the bridge.

The holes are reamed to the same conical shape as the stringpins.

The edges of the holes are chamfered with a special tool.

With the help of my Proxxon, the mini saw and files, I make sure that the string and the stringpin are tight enough.

The ball ends lie nicely on top of the bridgeplate as they should.

Old European parlor guitars had no standard in the distance between the tuner posts. They are usually spread tighter than on modern tuners, which have the same spread as American tuners had since the end of the 1800th century. After World War II, or at least during the 1950s, the American standard became standard throughout the world. Old tuning screws are seldom as good as new ones, although they can work really well on a slotted head if the cog is placed behind the worm. When the strings are tightened, the cog is pressed against the worm and the tuning screw becomes tighter. In the mid-1920s, when flat heads began to be made, the order of the cog and the screw was reversed. With a flat head and the screw above the cog, the tuning screw becomes less loose, with a slotted head they are pulled apart. Old European tuners from around 1900 or earlier are more solid and usually work better than the tuners from the 1920s.

The old tuners are usually replaced with new ones on an GammelGura, they can be broken or too loose. The first thing to do is to plug the old holes and drill new ones. Since old guitars are handmade, it is not possible to measure the location of the new holes. You have to rely on the eye measurement and do what you can to place the tuning screws opposite each other. The easiest way is to place both of the two new tuners on top of the head and mark the position of the middle post on a piece of tape.

I use a very good jig to easily drill the new holes. With a lamp can I see the marking through the hole of the jig.

Stewmac's Golden Age tuning screws has a washer that protrudes on the underside around the post. In order to be able to pull the plate tightly against the wood, the edge of the hole is chamfered off.

I always reinforce the holes with metal bushings. Partly to give the end of the string a maximum hard attachment, but mostly so that the string does not eat into the wood. It also looks nice! To do this, the holes must be made larger. A jig for flat head has had the holes drilled to 7,1 mm. Before the bushings are glued in, I take the opportunity to paint the head with black spirit varnish.

The bushings are glued in place with fish glue. Some bushings must be cut as the center post in the slotted head is narrower than two bushings against each other. I use a little nice Knipex pliers to press in the bushings, the advantage of which is that the jaws are always parallel.

The outer bushings do not need to be cut. A metal bar is used to simplify assembly.

All screw holes from the old tuner are filled with toothpicks and super glue. New holes are made using an awl (an old ice chopper!) And a handy 2 mm hand drill.

The tuners are mounted and functional.

Batch; A newcomer

Now that all the guitars have been repaired, got braces in the top and bottom and a carbon fiber rod, I mostly work with two at a time until they are ready. First out are the two who had a wooden bindings around the bottom. Both get new rosewood in fretboard and bridge.

GG187 European * bling * parlor, ca 1920
In addition, there is a newcomer in the batch, number 4 in the waiting room. It was paid in advance a year ago and I feel obligated to get it ready. It is almost in the same position as the others, but needs a carbon fiber rod.

Batch; Kerfing and string pin holes

There are some minor jobs to do with the body that are not always needed. In this batch, two bottoms had a wood binding around the bottom. Such a binding can usually not be saved unless the bottom is sawn loose. I loosened the bottom by scrapping the binding instead to later replace it with a new binding of the same wood.

One problem is that the bottom that remains does not have enough kerfing to glue to without a binding as the binding is about as wide as the narrow original kerfing. My solution is to build on the kerfing with another thin piece of wood around it. For that, I use linden from an old shutter that has been cut and thinned to the right thickness and height. An advantage is that linden is malleable when soaked with hot water from the tap. By first squeezing it with clamps without glue and letting it dry, they stick in the right shape and can then be easily glued with hot hide glue.

The other guitar in the batch with a wooden binding around the bottom received the same treatment.

Another step that always comes back is to fill in the old string pin holes in the top. I have made a pile of 6 mm round fitting pieces in radial spruce that is glued with hot hide glue and clamped with a clamp.

Batch; Gluing top bracing

One of the bigger jobs is to glue the new braces in the top. I use the original bridge and the holes for the stringpins to place the bridgeplate in spruce and all the bracing with it as a starting point. First, all plates and braces are measured and rough-formed and test-mounted loosely.

The bridge plate is glued together first, I use an underestimated cheap planer with razor blades to shape the three parts of the bridge plate. I plan with a coarse sandpaper as a base to firmly hold the piece of wood. Most of the top is then glued in step one in my mountable go-bar. The gluing takes place in two passes to be able to perfectly fit A-frame braces to the upper cross brace and the plate below.

Everything in the top is glued except the top cross brace. I fit it, but wait to glue it until later before the bottom is glued and when I can test the neck angle. With the right radius below in the underside of the brace, no wedge is needed under the fretboard on the top for a straight fretboard.

The large Levine gets an X-bracing. It takes longer to do an X-bracing as it is more complex. The most difficult thing is the cross joint between the two longest braces, it goes better every time! This gluing also takes place in two sessions.

Now all the bottoms and tops have their braces and I can disassemble the go-bar jig again.

The magic wand

After cutting a couple of brace blanks 1 mm too short in the current batch, I got a little irritated. It took a quarter of an hour to invent and manufacture a flexible tool so as not to make the same mistake again! The problem is to measure the new braces inside the top with the sides in place. I used to measure at the top of the sides, but sometimes the shape does not match exactly on the top and bottom and the kerfing in the top and bottom can have different widths.

The solution was a "magic wand" made of a carbon fiber tube and a round rod in birch that fits right into the tube with a suitable fit to get stuck, but still be able to slide in and out. Both the carbon fiber tube and the birch rod are sanded to a point at the ends.

With the "wand", it is very easy to measure the length of the new brace from the inside on the sides, I want to stick the ends of the brace under the kerfing when it is glued. The tube and the birch rod were cut to be reasonably long, the birch rod a little longer so that it could not disappear into the carbon fiber tube.

With the "wand", it is then easy to cut a brace blank. It also turned out to be very practical to have an exact measurement when selecting a brace blank from the pile with different lengths!

No more risk of braces being cut too short :)

Batch; Filling cracks

When cracks in the top (and bottom) approach 1 mm or more, you must fill in with a stick. Trying to press the top together to glue only works for a while, the built-in tension causes a new crack to open sooner or later. Mostly not in the glued crack, but right next to it. When filling in a crack, it is a great advantage if the stick has the same color as the top or bottom. I bought a number of replaced tops from old parlor guitars, I have also scrapped some of my own hopeless cases. With a sharp scalpel and a steel ruler, I can cut out a thin triangular stick with the old varnish left on the wide side.

One of the guitars in the batch had two wider cracks in the top to fill in. Already cut sticks were picked out. The first stick broke off, but the two pieces went well together when glued.

In order for the stick to fit in the crack, it is enlarged and smoothed out with a small metal saw and a triangular file. The stick and the crack are filed so that they almost fit against each other, then the soft spruce is pressed together rock hard between abutments with clamps when the stick is glued with hot hide glue. The glue works a bit like an oil and the stick can slide into the crack when you press on with the clamps. I use thick plexiglass as an abutment and plastic film so as not to glue the abutment to the top.

After drying overnight in a press, the stick is flush with the surface of the top and already has the right color from the old varnish. Later I will use stain to hide the repair even better. With the sticks in place, the tension in the top is reduced and the risk of new drying cracks is minimal.

Batch; Thinning the top

The next step is to take care of the body of the guitars in the batch. Some cracks still needs to be glued, but I start by thinning the top. The bottom can be thinned in the drum sander, but not the top that is attached to the sides. Instead, it is thinned from the inside with various small planers, knives to scrape with and a small "sanding mouse" with coarse sandpaper. This is one of the more messy steps in a "GammelGura" renovation. There will be a lot of dust and shavings. In addition to a face mask, I have an air purifier and a point extractor to avoid inhaling a lot of wood dust.

Both Levin guitars had a top that was about 4 mm thick, the others had tops that were closer to the 3-XNUMX mm that I think is a good thickness of a top.

It did not start out well, my old Black & Decker sanding mouse broke, and I had to buy a new one. It was a good thing though, it turned out that the new one was half as loud as the old one. I still needed both a face mask, hearing protection and the magnifying glass in the forehead plus my own glasses in addition to a pair of thick leather gloves to reduce the vibration from the sanding mouse when I worked. This is as geared up that I ever am in the shop!

The entire bottom is sanded to provide an even and fresh adhesive surface for the braces, but the top above the sound hole does not need to be thinned more than that. Only the top below the sound hole is thinned to 2,8-3 mm. To keep track of the thickness, I use a very good digital thickness gauge. A magnetic steel ball on the front of the top measures the thickness between the ball and the sensor on the inside, the measurement is visible on a digital display. I have benefited greatly from it over the years.

A lot of unnecessary tone wood ends up on the floor, the guitars become lighter, and they sound better when they are finished :-)

Batch; New braces in the bottom

The necks have been given their carbon fiber rods and trimmed. Now with a stronger reinforcement of the neck foot.

After the carbon fiber rod in the neck and general repair of all bottoms, it is time to make bottom brces and glue them in place.

Braces are selected and cut from the stock of already formed brace blanks. They are rectangular and quartz sawn spruce braces, about 8 x 15 mm, in varying lengths. I work with one bottom at a time and first give the brace a 20 ″ radius using a jig bought by LMI. First I give the bottom of the brace blank a rough shape with the help of a plane, then I sand it to the right shape in the jig. A novelty in this batch is that I use a scraper to even out the rough surface from the 80 sandpaper in the jig, a finer surface makes the hot hide glue adhere better.


Because the braces at the bottom are straight and simple, they are easy to triangulate in my practical planer jig. The two posts in the jig have exactly the slope needed to be able to plan the sides of the brace blank to a perfect triangle.

I'm a bit OCD with the placement of the bottom braces, it should be straight and nice! Actually, it probably does not matter, or is even better, if it's a little charmingly crooked… With a marked centerline in the bottom, I use an angle hook to get the braces straight.

I do not need my go-bar to glue the bottom as the braces are straight and simple. Instead, I use my old method with an abutment with the same 20 ″ radius as the underside of the bar. The third brace is thin and wide to make the bottom more flexible and glued to a stick with a negative 20 ″ radius. The other braces are glued with my special aluminum brackets that fit the triangular braces.

During gluing, the entire bottom is heated with a heat gun set to 300 degrees and a heat lamp (the red light). Partly to contract the wood at the bottom to the maximum to reduce the risk of drying cracks, partly to give the hot hide glue longer opening time. The wooden clamps are perfect for the purpose. I use a thin cloth dipped in water, a spatula and a coarse brush to quickly remove the excess glue.

I have enough cauls and clamps for two bottoms. An advantage with this method is that the bottom during gluing becomes a package that is easy to move out of the way of the next. When the second bottom is completely glued, I can then loosen all the clamps on the first as the hot hide glue hardens quickly. After about half an hour, a joint that is not put under tension and glued with hot skin glue will hold together. One of MANY benefits of hot hide glue.

Here all the bottoms in the batch are glued and the protruding braces are cut along with the edge of the bottom.

Article in American Lutherie

I have written a long article about my innovations and renovations of old parlor guitars in general, which will be published the December issue of American Lutherie. It's a lot more work than you might think to do an article like this, especially as it's written in English. But of course it will be fun to see the result in the finished magazine! I have received help from the editor and my client in the USA, David Gill, to conjure away Swedish. There will be a lot of pictures too (81 if I counted correctly) on 16 pages where I reveal all my secrets 🙂

My hope is to give inspiration to others to try a bridge plate in spruce, plugs, segmented saddle and nut intonation.

The magazine is a member magazine for Guild of American Luthiers, if you are a member you get 4 issues with 76 pages in American A4 format in color. Here are articles about most things that are about building guitars, there are usually small gold nuggets in each issue. In any case, always entertaining reading for a guitar nerd like me.